Tag Archives: student

The Keiki

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Gangstas v. Surfers

I have officially accepted a teaching job in Texas. You’d think I’d be ecstatic, right? A solid job to move back home to, back to the land of delicious Mexican food, sweet tea, and floating the river. I’ll finally get to be roommates with my best friend, I’ll finally keep a job for longer than two years…

But honestly, there’s something bothering me that I can’t quite shake. It’s not the fact that I’m leaving paradise—perfect weather, perfect tan (see I Heard This Place is Hard to Leave). It’s the keiki, man.

The kids.

I’ve been pampered for the last two years. My students might drive me crazy, but they freakin’ adore me. The biggest issue I’ve ever had is their lack of motivation…and I don’t blame them. I’d rather go to the beach than do homework too.

I remember what the kids were like in school back home. Also, I’m allowed to talk shit about the ghetto Mexicans and the white trash since I am both Mexican and white. Boom. Please remember that for the rest of this blog…

Those two types of people make up a LARGE percent of the population. Rednecks and gang members, knife fights at lunch, “pinche” being every other word out of most of their mouths, and a huge teen pregnancy problem. Ah, Tejas.

While this is an exaggeration, it’s only a slight exaggeration. So basically, I’m scared.

I spent 22 years in Texas, surrounded by a large Hispanic population, most of whom I was probably related to. But as for teaching experience? I’ve taught approximately two Hispanic kids in the past two years. Here in Central Oahu, the student population is comprised of SO many different ethnicities—Japanese, Hawaiian, Filipino, Samoan, Micronesian, Chuukese, Tongan, Korean, Chinese, and more. They’re so mixed that most of them don’t even know what to check for race on surveys. They think it’s weird that I’m “only two things” and they don’t tease each other about being “too much” of something or “not enough” of something else.

Duh, there’s still racism and homophobia and bullying and drug abuse and all those other terrible things that happen everywhere.

But I swear, Hawaii’s kids are probably the most tolerant human beings in the U.S. It’s all aloha and shaka and howzit and bruddah and sistah and auntie… it’s kind of crazy how happy people are here. Oh wait, the sun shines every day. There are rainbows every day.

The kids I went to school with would beat these kids to a pulp and then tattoo something about it on their necks. Or they’d tie my kids to cows and pour Lonestar all over them. The white kids I went to school with would call my kids Mexicans and when my kids would try to explain that they’re actually a Hawaiian-Japanese-Filipino, they’d say, “Whatever, you’re brown, so you’re Mexican.” The Mexicans I went to school with would call my kids wannabe Mexicans.

I could go on and on, trashing and exaggerating about the kind of kids I went to school with (reminder: I’m allowed), but what I’m getting at is I DON’T WANT TO TEACH TEXAS KIDS, I WANT TO TEACH HAWAII KIDS…BUT IN TEXAS.

Sigh.

Will I be facing a major culture shock? It’s kind of ironic, I realize. I was born and raised in the area, I’m obviously super familiar with the Hispanic culture. But teaching is a different story. I’ve finally reached a point where I feel qualified to teach Hawaiian mythology and “local, Pidgin kine poetry”. I feel comfortable discussing and analyzing the differences and similarities of Asian cultures. I’ve finally mastered the stereotypes, resentments, and unspoken bonds between these groups here—it’s been incredibly hard.

So will my teaching suffer?

Will it be like my first year all over again?

What about my ELL kids? Will I know how to accommodate them? Is it the same?

I know that this entire blog is probably a huge freak-out, completely uncalled for and unnecessary. I’ll adapt, I’ll be fine, and my memory about how horrible all the kids were is probably extremely blurry and skewed. Let’s be real, I only remember one knife fight in my 13 years of schooling.

Every culture is unique, and I know how important it is to learn about my students’ cultures and incorporate them into my work, but does every culture require some sort of special, secret teaching skill? No, of course not. Teaching with love, passion, and curiosity is across the board—that’s all I need…which is good, because sometimes I feel like that’s all I have to offer as a teacher.

Hopefully, my Mexican kids will love me just as much as my little mixed plate loco mocos do here. Hopefully they won’t judge me based on the fact that my Spanish is only at an intermediate level (only when I’m drunk). At least I know all the bad words, that’ll be helpful.

I will adapt and I will do it FAST, just like I did here. I still remember the first time I tried poke and spam musubi, thinking they looked like the most disgusting things I’d ever seen. Look at me now—using chop sticks like a pro and giving directions like a local.

I still say flip-flops, not slippahs. Not budging on that one.

I’ll miss this place and I’ll miss these people so much. I don’t think I’ll ever love my students more than I love these, my Hawaii babies, my keiki. But you never know. All I can do is try.

Poop in one hand…

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After receiving a few random comments, suggestions, lectures, rants, drunken statements, serious girl talks, life stories, and in-a-nutshells—all on the same questions (How do you know it’s a date? How do you know you’re dating someone? When should it be official?)—I decided to record some of these nuggets of wisdom. People my age, older people, younger people, and yes, my 7th grade students, have given me their opinion (some prompted, some not). Read on if you’d like some clarity (or more confusion) on all your love life wonderings.

  • Friends:

“Your dress only has one sleeve. It’s a date.”

“If you don’t order a cab, or in some cases the bus, for the person to leave at the end of the night, it’s a date. When your landlord asks for your date’s rent check, it should be official.”

“I would consider it dating when a guy tells you he wants to buy you a horse.” Smartass.

“When I go home and wait for them to call. When we text all day.”

“It’s a date if he pays, kisses you, or tries to feel you up. At least one of the three.”

“You’re dating if you’re not sleeping with other people. No wait, that’s if it’s official. No wait, what?”

“Facebook, it’s all about the Facebook relationship status. Ohhh, you guys aren’t even friends on Facebook? Ouch. That’s not dating. That’s not even friendship.”

  • Student quotes:

“Well, I mean, if she lets you hold her hand all week, everywhere you go.”

“When the whole school knows, so it’s like, really known or whatever.”

“It’s like when I let her wear my hat and she lets me wear her silly bands. That’s like, not something you do for just anybody.”

“When Ms. Mendez even knows you’re going out, and she’s all ‘Tell your boyfriend to do his poetry packet!’ it’s like DANG, you’re really going out, ya’ know?”

Mom: “A date is when the guy calls you and asks you out and he pays the check. It was just a date if you didn’t have fun, laugh, talk, and laugh some more. When you have enough in common to want to see the same person again, and again, and again, this is dating but can be done with more than one person. Exclusive dating is when two people realize they’re not seeing anyone else and don’t want to see anyone else. It’s ‘official’ when you realize it’s exclusive and it’s unspoken that it’s exclusive—there is no timeline on this. Could take a month, could take six months. It’s seriously ‘official’ when it is spoken that you are exclusive. Love finds you when you least expect it. Always be smiling, and always wear earrings when you leave the house—you never know who your audience is!”

Dad: “Poop in one hand and wish in the other. See which one fills up first.” I feel like this is actually pretty helpful. Think about it. If you’re having to wish for something to be a date, or dating, or “official,” that probably means something isn’t quite right. You shouldn’t have to really wish that hard, if both people want the same things, are on the same page. No one wants poop in their hand.

Ironically, Dad gave me another piece of dating advice one time that had to do with feces. He said, “You better get out of the shit before your shoes get dirty.” It was very profound at the time. Shit and love life seem to go together nicely, metaphorically speaking that is.

If this doesn’t make things more clear, I don’t know how to help you. My dad or I could probably come up with a new poop expression to better fit your needs though. All you have to do is ask.

Faith in Failure

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I had never been inside the gates of government housing, much less into an actual apartment. But I had to meet DJ’s parents. DJ, or Danu, who had just spent a whole hour after school with me, perfecting his essay while humming rap songs, picking at the scrapes on his arms, and drumming on his desk. He had jumped at the chance to get a ride home, but begged me not to come up into building seven. Too bad, so sad. I was going to light some kind of fire, I was so confident. This was step one in my naïve  plan. The parents would see how invested I was and they would therefore also become super involved in DJ’s English skills. It was going to work like magic. I was smiling as I climbed rusted steps, lined with “slippahs”.

DJ walked through the open door and shot upstairs, jerking a thumb towards me before he disappeared. I tiptoed in quietly, not sure if I should wait outside. I looked in the direction that his thumb had jutted toward. I saw a glimpse of two brown faces and four brown eyes. “Hi! I’m Alysha, I’m DJ’s English teacher!”  The open windows washed a breeze over everything. Flies floated around the furniture. I tried to direct my gaze only on his parents, not the large pile of dirty laundry next to the stove or the molded dishes in the sink.

No one said a word. There was a sound from both of them, I guess an acknowledgement of my presence. But I couldn’t discern if it was a grunt, a dismissal, or a standard greeting used for all. Dad pulled his shirt down, still not covering a huge, hairy belly. Mom got up off the couch reluctantly, leading me back out through the front door. A little girl appeared, her innocent smile reminding me of that same feeling of childhood excitement I see in DJ sometimes. “Ooh, look, a teacher!” Her pony tail bounced and her eyes popped. DJ’s eyes. I wanted to scoop her up and hug her tight and whisper in her tiny ear to never give up, because I already believed in her and her seashell earrings.

Mom still hadn’t said a word. DJ had finally joined us, peeking from behind the doorframe as I started an uncomfortable spiel. Her son was great. Her son had shown such, such incredible improvement. Her son was so smart, had such potential. I could see a sly grin appearing and disappearing from inside.

She gave that same grumble, almost inaudible, with a nod this time. She never looked into my eyes. In fact, she looked pissed, like I had just ranted about the complete opposite. I briefly wondered if my words could’ve somehow been misinterpreted. But no, I had been crystal clear; your son rocks. My whole body was burning, not because of the midday Hawaiian heat. I wanted to send spit flying at her neck tattoo and gold chain, I wanted to scream at all 300 pounds of her, “BE PROUD OF HIM! LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT HIM! BE PROUD OF HIM YOU STUPID COW!” Because I sure as hell am. And I shouldn’t have to be the only one.

I said my goodbyes and nice-to-meet-yous and plastered on a fake smile, waving to DJ and his little sister as I made my way back to my car, completely dejected. I wanted to break down. I wanted to sob in fury and disappointment. But I couldn’t. I wanted even more to be like DJ; strong in the face of a situation in which I should be my weakest.

The next day, he cussed in class, daydreamed through half of the notes, and tried to hide in the closet after the bell rang. The usual drill. But he passed that freakin’ essay, the highest grade he’s ever made on any writing. I pulled him aside and told him how proud I was. He shrugged me off and sauntered away, but not before I saw that same giddy grin lined with dimples. He was proud of himself too. And you know what I realized? Two people having that kind of faith in an almost-failing 12-year old student is better than none. And if there aren’t more now, there will be. And that’s something.